Hello from Jarcevo in far western Russia! It's been an enormous week since the last entry & in many ways possibly the toughest I've had. There were times when I was within an inch of yelling up to heaven, "C'mon! A little help please!" but time after time found myself instead taking a few deap breathes, peering out through watery eyes & saying softly, "I trust you Lord." I left Moscow well before dawn & walked out under the gaze of hundreds of years of history. The city is alive. Dazling lights lit up every street block & the mix of history & modern life was like no othr city I've ever seen. I made one wrong turn but made my way out onto the open freeway (the M1) with a skip in my step & a tune on my lips. By mid afternoon that skip had turned into a limp & the tune was more of hum. The time off over Christmas & then the siberian crossing had sapped more fitness from me than I'd accounted for & my body was beginning to pack it in. There was no snow within Moscow at all so the going was pretty good. Even so, my left archilles tendon became strained & my right knee began to ache. I was a hobbling mess by the end of the 1st day & wondering what on earth I was supposed to do with the rest of the journey. I eventually found a small motel to stay the night at & they gave me my sheets & sent me off to my room. I could hardly move so even making my bed was a chore (actually it is when I can move freely anyway). I think my body had began to go into shock from the 49km I'd pushed through because my temperature was going up & down & I felt horrible. To my dismay, there was no hot water left in the motel so my shower lasted about 2.5seconds. I then threw my socks & undies in the sink to do my nightly washing but when I turned the tap on out spewed the foulest orange/brown water that immediately stained everything it touched. Now, I don't particularly wish to disclose the colour of my underwear (they're white) but the orange/brown stains weren't a good combination. "Oh that's just brilliant" I thought. There's was nothing more I could do so I just went to bed. The next day I walked 22km to a small town where the Germans had been haulted by inclement weather in WWII as they tried to take Russia. A lot of the remnants of war where still in sight & I was told that the young soldiers training in the area still find rifles, bombs & clothing out in the forest. There was a small church there as well but the reception there was as warm as the weather. The priest couldn't have cared less & simply walked away form me without any acknowledement. I limped off to find a motel & after a few wrong directions form locals & lovely lady by the name of Victoria offered to show me to the door of a hotel. It was a short bus ride & then a 10min walk so I wouldn't have found it without her help. She asked a for a room on my behalf but the receptionist simply yelled through a small window, "We're full!" & slammed the window door shut. I couldn't believe the rudeness but Victoria didn't seem to bat and eye lid. She just keept talking & eventually the lady on the other side yelled something back which was apparently the address of another place I could stay at. As we walked away, Victoria commented that she & her husband holidayed in Spain & that the hotels were a lot more friendly there. I added that any country in the world is more friendly than 'that'. The next motel was also full but a young soldier there pointed me to a 3rd place so I hobbled off once again. I found a room there but my leg had become so bad that one knee seized up almost completly. I could only bend it about 5degrees before it locked. I still had to find dinner so I used my walking pole as a walking stick & with an old-man 'swing-of-the-stiff-leg' hobble ventured out once again. The next day as I left the infamous war town, the weather, once again, turned inclement. The snow was flying in sideways & the roads were covered. With a strained archilles & a seized knee trying to walk through snow was, to say the least, difficult. Around 3hrs into the day I had that sinking feeling that I'd left something behind. It was my socks & undies - they were hanging up on the hot water pipe drying. And wouldn't you know it, it was my brand new pair of socks & NOT the stained undies. It was too far to go back so I had to get used to the idea of now having only 2 pairs of socks & one & half sets of underwear. By nightfall I was still some way off my destination as my pace was, well, let's say a little old lady with a hunch managed to overtake me at one point; it was slow. The town's folk in Mozajsk were more friendly than the last place & whisked me off to a motel. In the process though I realised that for some reason I was only wearing one glove & the other one was no wear to be seen! I'd taken it off to grab something out of my bag & I guess the glove is where I put it down. I carry 3 pairs of gloves because of the extreme temperatures so I can get by without that pair but they were favorite. I still haven't thrown the other glove out yet. Anyone need one glove? Michael Jackson only wears one, maybe we can do a deal? I didn't have enough money for the room at the motel so I had to duck across the srteet to an ATM. As I was returning I jumped up off the street into the snow but misjudged how much snow there actually was & badly strained the other Archilles tendon! The pain was agonising & I was left standing on one leg on the side. I contorted my face in ever colourful manner but managed to keep my mouth shut. The pain eventually subsided & I double-limped back up to my room & collapsed on my bed. The next day was a slow, 'not much to write about' day. Long & slow with both ankles struggling in the snow & now both knees struggling to warm up & enjoy full movement. I had a strong sense at that time to call home & let my family know I was ok (or so I thought) but I couldn't find a phone or internet so it had to wait. After nearly a week on the road I still hadn't been invited to step foot inside someones home but a truck driver from Belarus called me up into his cab as I walked past & invited me to share lunch with him. His name was Vitali & he was a gem of a bloke. He lives in Brest in western Belarus & has invited me to come & have dinner with him & his family as I pass through in few weeks time. His Volvo truck made for a comfortable lunch stop. A few days later I stayed in a town called Gargarin & I was shown to a motel by a beautiful girl called Julia. She spoke English well & chatted the whole way there. At the motel the receptionist couldn't fill out the appropriate government forms because it made no allowence for non-Russian customers. Hence, Julia offered her details & so for one night, I was officially 'Julia.' You'll be pleased to know that I've reverted back to Sam again. The next morning I stopped into a pertol station to pick up my day's supply of food (it's really difficult here to find healthy food for the road - muslie bars & fresh fruit are non-existant) & then hit the road. After a few hours of walking & some time of prayer I reached for something to eat & was absolutly livered to discover that I had left all my food sitting on the counter at the petrol station! It was too much. I forget things every now & then but all of this one after the other was beating me into a pulp. I was hungry, I was annoyed, I was sore & I was tired. I sarcastically noted to myself, "If at first you don't succeed, don't get too hung up about it because you're probably going to stuff again pretty soon!" But the sarcasm soon gave way to reality & I found myself thinking more along the lines of, "If at first you don't succeed remember that it's got not nothing to do with success." I kept trying to find internet access or a telephone to call home but nothing was ever open or working so I had to push on. On Thursday I had the worst case scenario pop up. I was walking slower & slower & hence finishing my days later & beginning the next day later & so it began to snow-ball. Thursday saw me walking to a town where there was no gaurentee of any accomodation & as it was, I arrived at 10pm to nothing more than a service station. There was no where to pitch my tent (a foot of snow everywhere), the buses had stopped running & non of the locals, as friendly as they actually were, where offering me a place to bunk down for the night. Instead I had to walk on towards Safonovo, a 72km walk from my starting point. My left knee had seized up again so I had to make a pit stop in the snow & very gingerly kneel down to apply some cool pain relief. While down there I took the oppurtunity to ask God for some help, but ultimately for his will to be down. I was very thankful that within a few mintues of starting up again my knee un-seized & I was able to pick the pace up. I arrived at Safonovo at a staggering 4:15am. I was given a very cheap room & fell into bed around 4:30am. Just to add to my frustration though, my body was in so much pain that I couldn't sleep. My feet felt as though there was nothing but open flesh (they were atually all in tact) & my hips felt like I had nails being driven into them. By 10am I still hadn't been able to sleep so I got up, had a shower & some breakfast, pulled my boots on & walked into town to find internet or a phone. Once again though, nothing. I walked to the other side of town, checked into a motel & this time slept for about 12hours straight. Last night, after a short 22km walk, I arrived in Jarcevo. I could see a church spire through some pine trees a good kilometre or two off the highway so I wandered down through the forest & eventually found it. I was so happy to at last be welcomed into a home. The priest here, Father Vasil & his family welcomed me with open arms & fed me more in 12hrs than I think I've had for teh whole week. I attended night prayers with them last night & then Sunday Mass this morning & have enjoyed their company. Last night though I was finally able to contact home via email but as I logged into my hotmail account I was met with a progression of emails detailing the health of my nan (mumma), her deteriation & then finally, one asking me to call home immediately because she had passed away. Mumma was buried yesterday & I was able to speak to my family this morning. This week has, for many reasons, most certainly been the longest yard of this jounrey so far. My body is healing slowly & I feel physically better today than of any day since leaving Moscow. The prayer continues & the invitation to join in praying for unity is ceaseless. I hope to be writing about all the pretty flowers & butterflies that I encoutner in next weeks blog & perhaps the bucket of bleach I was able to plunge my undies into. Until then though, may His will be done! God bless, Sam.
"We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." 2Cor 4:10